Archive for the 'books' Category

Reviewed: The Areas of My Expertise (ON CD!!!)

February 11, 2008


I am so, so late to the party on this one, but nonetheless: I loved John Hodgman on Jon Stewart. I loved (still love) him as the stodgy PC to Justin Long’s faux-cool Mac. (Nobody else thinks Long is Trying Too Hard?)

But I couldn’t get more than a few pages through The Areas of My Expertise. I just couldn’t. The endless charts, the digressions, the asterisks. It was funny–I knew this in an abstract way–but it was not riveting, or even interesting.

Lo and Behold, there is an audio CD which I have had the pleasure of discovering just last night. The Audio CD is the whole book, read by John Hodgman (deliciously drily), with bonus cameos and musical interludes. It is a thing of beauty. Hodgman’s delivery is perfect. The jokes, which are all decent on paper, come to life on the CD.

I wouldn’t read this book any other way. And I do suggest you pick up this audiobook if you are unfamiliar with Hodgman’s book. It is crucial if you want to be prepared for the next hobo uprising.

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Blogs (and what they’re not)

February 6, 2008

Great piece in the New York Review of Books about blogs. We, you and I, are not its intended audience—if we were, the author Sarah Boxer would not have to define “blog,” “LOL,” “WTF.” Yet this is interesting reading:

Bloggers assume that if you’re reading them, you’re one of their friends, or at least in on the gossip, the joke, or the names they drop. They often begin their posts mid-thought or mid-rant—in medias craze. They don’t care if they leave you in the dust. They’re not responsible for your education. Bloggers, as Mark Liberman, one of the founders of the blog called Language Log, once noted, are like Plato. :-) The unspoken message is: Hey, I’m here talking with my buddies. Keep up with me or don’t. It’s up to you. Here is the beginning of Plato’s Republic:

I went down yesterday to the Peiraeus with Glaucon, the son of Ariston, to pay my devotions to the Goddess, and also because I wished to see how they would conduct the festival since this was its inauguration.

Wait a second! Who is Ariston? What Goddess? What festival?

And here, for comparison’s sake, is a passage from Julia {Here Be Hippogriffs}, a blog about motherhood and infertility:

Having left Steve to his own devices for the past three days I am being heavily pressured to abandon the internet (you! he wants me to abandon you!) and come downstairs to watch SG-1 with him….

So this will have to be quick. Vite! Aprisa aprisa!

I went to Blogher. It was rather fun and rather ridiculous and I am quite glad I went although I do not know if I would ever go again. One thing of note for my infertile blogging friends: DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. Do not go. Do not ever ever go to Blogher.

Huh? Who’s Steve? What’s Blogher? A blog? (No.) A mothers’ club? (No.) A blogging conference? (Yes.)

You get the point. Bloggers breeze through places, people, texts, and blogs that you might or might not know without providing any helpful identification. They figure that even if they don’t provide you with links you can get all the background you need by Googling unfamiliar terms, clicking through Wikipedia (the collaborative on-line encyclopedia) or searching their blog’s archives.

Of course I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure that bloggers have fouler mouths, tougher hides, and cooler thesauruses than most of the people I’ve read in print…

Bloggers give new, Web-inflected meanings to old words. A “troll” on the Web is someone who posts provocative things just to cause an outcry. “Astroturfing” is creating a fake grassroots movement. Bloggers also sprinkle their blogs with expressions like WTF (translation: “What the fuck?”), lol (laugh out loud), and meh (a verbal shrug). They willfully misspell—like “teh” for “the.” They call the Internet “the internets,” cutely following George W. Bush’s slip. If people wrote like this for publication, they’d be fired. And, indeed, there is a term for getting canned because of your blog: “dooced,” named for the blogger Dooce, now a stay-at-home-mother (SAHM) or, as she puts it, a “Shit Ass Ho Motherfucker,” who got fired for blogging about her employer.

Writing like this might seem easy, but just try it. Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at Stanford who writes for newspapers and radio and sometimes contributes to the blog Language Log, admitted on NPR back in 2004, “I don’t quite have the hang of the form.” And, he added, many journalists who get called upon by their editors to keep blogs are similarly stumped: “They fashion engaging ledes, they develop their arguments methodically, they give context and background, and tack helpful IDs onto the names they introduce.” Guess what? They read like journalists, not bloggers.[Blogs]

So, as I interpret this, the challenge for bloggers who blog on their employer’s dime is not “how to build community” by fostering discussion and replying to commenters and all that we’ve been hearing for some time now, but how to stop thinking like a journalist. What do you think?

Review: Jobs That Don’t Suck (career books, part 2)

January 25, 2008

Yesterday I mentioned The Girl’s Guide to Kicking Your Career Into Gear. I mentioned that though I can’t vouch for the book, I can totally vouch for the authors.
Here’s the opposite situation: a book that will change your life, though I don’t think I like the author very much. Jobs That Don’t Suck is the only career book that has ever done anything useful for me; it’s geared toward people just finishing college who want to move into a creative field. Monster.com and Yahoo! Business and all that are, of course, aimed at MBAs and salespersons and the like—surprise, those people have more money and are thus more attractive to advertisers. (You would not believe how long it took me to figure that out—go naiveté!)

But really. If you are interested in writing or journalism or radio or fashion design or any of these competitive fields, you need this book. There’s an entire chapter dedicated to unconventional cover letters, one of which, when I snagged the format, landed me a job—the person who interviewed me actually said she “loved” my cover letter. There’s chapters about resumes that go way beyond the usual schlock. There is a chapter about calling receptionists after you’ve submitted a resume—that gives you a script. I hate how other career books assume you know what to say. Many people, especially recent grads, have no clue. I sure didn’t. I thought I did, but I was wrong.

There are a few caveats with Jobs That Don’t Suck. First, there is a laughable chapter about the Internet. (The book came out in 1998 and could use an update.) Skip it. Rip the pages out if you want—they are that useless. Second, the author, Charlie Drozdyk, tries to write in a “hip” style that may have been cool 10 years ago, but takes a little getting used to. But he knows his stuff.

Also, I don’t really like Charlie Drozdyk as a person, at least from what I gleaned from his book. He advocates lying on your resume, for one thing. He suggests working 10-hour days, every day, with no end in sight. (Working late when you’re getting started and you want to make a good impression? Great. Working late every day of your life, even when you’ve gotten that promotion you wanted and you have an assistant who works late for you? Not so great.) And the lying on the resume thing really irks me. If you’re good, you shouldn’t need to lie.

Despite its flaws, I’d give this book a high rating—an 8.5 out of 10, if I did that sort of thing. Anyone in the job market oughta pick this one up.

Career books and being a mini-celebrity

January 24, 2008

On Tuesday I attended a career seminar/book signing held by Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio, author of the The Girls Guide to Business series. Their latest book, The Girl’s Guide to Kicking Your Career Into Gear (yes, their series doesn’t have an apostrophe but the book titles do–go figure) is about how to ask for a raise, a promotion, a corner office, or just a longer lunch break. (It also covers how to switch jobs if the one you’re in is making it hard for you to get what you’re asking for.)

You can read my interview with Kim Yorio (the shorter one) on ReadExpress.com here: Real Chick Lit

In the course of writing this story, I didn’t exactly have the opportunity to read the book, so I can’t vouch for its content, but I can certainly vouch for Caitlin and Kim, who are both very well-spoken, enthusiastic, knowledgeable women. (And I don’t believe the bit about Caitlin having a fear of public speaking–nice try, ladies.)

The ‘girls’ mentioned a story about being on The Today Show: the first time, Kim freaked out and Caitlin did all the talking. The second time, just before the cameras went on, Caitlin said she thought, “Oh my god, people actually watch this show.”

I had my own mini-moment like that yesterday, when I introduced myself at the end of the presentation and the girl behind me in the book-signing line said “Oh, you wrote that article? That’s how I knew to come here.”

Oh.

People actually read this paper. Hmm.

It’s easy to get suckered into the idea that you’re a lone writer toiling in obscurity, but everyone–from the top guy at the Post to a blogger with a Technorati authority of 3–has to remember that there ARE people out there reading.

Raja Rao’s Kanthapura part 2

January 4, 2008

I get so much traffic to my post on Kanthapura and it seems most people are looking for Cliff’s Notes or something. Then I found this post by Manu Saxena, a plot summary of the book, of sorts:

The story, at the beginning, is very boring. That sort of sets the tone for the entire book.    

The language one comes across in Kanthapura is strange and unlike anything else seen before. It is a highly bent, broken and battered form of the English we are all accustomed to. The words are dull and short, and are selected carefully so as to generate the maximum amount of boredom possible among readers.

The story has two main individual leaders, Mahatma Gandhi, who, very wisely, chooses to remain out of the novel, and Moorthy, the main protagonist. The story takes off, if it ever does, when Moorthy, a young Brahmin, suddenly gets influenced by the Mahatma. He starts spreading the Mahatma’s message among the villagers. He visits the city sometime during the beginning of the narrative, and returns a ‘Gandhi Man’. The villagers, in the absence of anything better to do, start taking Moorthy seriously. [Whose Life? Kanthapura]

Then there are 14 comments agreeing with Mr. Saxena, most of them saying “I couldn’t even get past the first 10 pages.” Okay, seriously, that bad? Yeah, okay, I like to read complicated stuff, but I’ve read much worse (Evelina, anyone?) All commenters are welcome. Was I reading the same book? My edition had copious footnotes–is that the key here?  Hints, please.